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1915: Urmia: Narrative of Dr. Jacob Sargis
by From the Correspondent at Petrograd of the American "Associated Press."
Posted: Tuesday, July 18, 2000 02:53 pm CST


Dr. Jacob Sargis, an American Methodist medical missionary, who has arrived in Petrograd after narrowly escaping death at the hands of the Turks and Kurds in Urmia, Persian Armenia, asserts that among the outrages committed against the Christian refugees was the burning to death of an American doctor named Simon, or Shimmun, as he was known there. His identity was not further established, but the story of the outrage, as told by Dr. Sargis, was as follows:

"Dr. Shimmun was in the village of Supurghan when the Turks attacked that place. He was among those who took refuge on a mountain near the lake. He was captured and told that since he had been a good doctor and had helped the wounded, they would not kill him, but that he must accept the Mohammedan faith. He refused, as almost all Christians did. They poured oil on him, and, before applying the torch, they gave him another chance to forsake his religion. Again he refused, and they set his clothes afire. While he was running in agony from the flames, the Turks shot him several times. After he fell to the ground unconscious, they hacked his head off. Mr. Allen, an American missionary, who went from village to village burying the victims of this butchery, found the body of Shimmun half eaten by dogs.

"The Catholic Mission there took 150 Christians of all sects, and kept them in a small room and tried to save them; but at least 49 of them, among them one Bishop Dinkha, of the Episcopal Mission, were bound together one night, taken to Gagin mountain and there shot down."

Mr. Sargis was born in Persia, but went to America in 1893, and was educated there by the assistance of Dr. W. F. Oldham, former Bishop of India. He is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan and Ohio Medical University, and was for a time resident physician of the Protestant hospital at Columbus, Ohio.

Dr. Sargis was doing relief work in Urmia on the 1st January last year when the Russian army retired from that city, followed by 14,000 refugees from Urmia and a hundred surrounding villages. The hardships and sufferings endured by those refugees were described in Associated Press despatches. There were still left in Urmia and the villages 45,000 persons, chiefly Armenian refugees, when the Turks and Kurds entered. The latter at once began the work of exterminating the Christian population. In one town alone, Gulpashan, in one right, according, to Dr. Sargis, 79 men and boys were tied hand to hand, taken to a hill outside the village and shot. Their wives and daughters were distributed among the Turks, Kurds and Persian Mohammedans.

Dr. Sargis' story continues :

"On the second day after the Turkish officers came, they had a good many wounded and sick. As soon as they heard that I was an able physician, they took me, gave me a bodyguard, and put me in charge of Urmia Hospital. That was how I came to learn most of their secrets ; I helped their wounded and sick. One day there were sixty men brought from Bashkala, all well-to-do citizens, some of them noted men of that place. They were used as beasts of burden and forced to carry rolls of barbed wire into Urmia. The next day they were all taken to .the Castle of Ismayil (48) and every one was shot or hacked to death.

"About that time Nuri, the governor of Gawar, told me that he had received word from the Turkish commander to kill all the Armenian soldiers in the Turkish army. He said that, for my sake, he would not do it, but that somebody else would. Twenty-nine were killed about fifteen miles from Urmia, at Karmad. We had eight of them in the city, fine fellows, some of them educated in Beirout. They had been disarmed, and one night they took them to the suburbs and shot them. But one of them, named Aslam(49), escaped. He dropped with the others , but was not hit. After the butchers left, he made his way to the Presbyterian mission college. I was notified and asked to take care of him. I kept him until the Russian army came. He joined, and is now fighting with them.

"In the First Turkish corps, commanded by Halil Bey, there were about 400 Armenians. One of them, Gulbenkian, a graduate of Beirout, told me that they were all doomed to be butchered. When they appointed me head physician of the hospital, they gave me plenty of helpers, including seven Christian nurses, six Arabs and one Greek. Gulbenkian told me that if I did not help them they would be killed. An Arab doctor, Bahadin Effendi, was appointed to work under my direction. My Greek nurse warned me that Bahadin had already killed more than fifty Armenian Christians, and cautioned me to watch him. One night about ten o'clock, Bahadin sent for me, saying that he was sick. Fortunately for me, the Greek and two Armenian nurses went with me. When I reached the hospital, I found that Bahadin was not sick at all. He said to me: 'What business have you to disturb me at this time of the night ? Your coming shows that you have some designs upon my life.' I told him that it was a mistake, that I had been told he was sick, and went away. At the bottom of the stairs I was overtaken by an officer, who said that the doctor had not done with me. I protested, but was ordered to go back. So I put my trust in the Lord and went.

"The doctor greeted me with the question. 'Who gave you permission to leave the room ? ' and continued: 'You are a prisoner, and you will never see the light of to-morrow's sun.' I told him that I was an American citizen. and that I was helping the wounded for the sake of humanity. He cut me off by saying: 'This is wartime. The top of your cap is green. That means that you are a descendant of the prophet, and it will give me pleasure to destroy your life to-night. I must think how I shall kill you. I could throw you out of the window, but that would be too quick. I could shoot you, but that also is too good for you. I shall have to use my sword. You sit down there in that corner, and these Turkish nurses will sing your funeral before I begin to cut you up.'

"The Turks began to sing a droning chant and I had no choice but to sit and listen. My bodyguard, the Greek nurse Theodore and two Armenian soldiers, the latter my servants, stood outside the door, and when they heard the chanting they thought it was all over with me. The Greek, who was a shrewd fellow, told my bodyguard to enter, and, if he saw me, to say that the patients wanted to see the doctor. All of a sudden I saw him enter with a lantern. He saluted the effendi and said: 'The patients want the doctor.' I didn't give Bahadin a chance to say a word. I was up and out and down in the street in about two seconds. When I got to the outpost they yelled from the window to stop me, but they were too late. My bodyguard and the Armenians and the Greek followed close behind me, and I got away. I reached home at midnight. My wife and children thought I was already dead."

Dr. Sargis turned the tables on the Arab doctor by alleging that he was insane, and having him put under guard and on a milk diet, notwithstanding that he was a doctor in Halil Bey's army.

"Soon after the Russians left Urmia a German machinist, Neumann, who came in with the Turks, announced himself as German Consul. By his orders a Christian of the name of Moushi was hanged. Neumann had promised me to release Moushi, but overnight he sold him to the Turks for £50. An Englishman named Jonathan George, well known in Tabriz, a relative of my wife, was whipped on Neumann's orders. In the village of Karadjalu a young Christian with a wife and two children was killed by a Mohammedan. The murderer took the wife and children, promising to protect them; but while crossing a bridge he threw the children into the river. At Ardishai 75 women and girls ran into the sea(50) to escape the Turks. They refused to trust promises of safety if they came out, and were all shot as they stood in the water. Eight thousand five hundred died in the vicinity of Urmia in five months; 1, 500 were killed, and the rest died of cold and hunger.

"During the days of the Turkish occupation it was no unusual sight to see an old woman carrying the body of her daughter or son to a place of burial, digging the grave herself or with the aid of other women."

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